Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks

Food Dyes Linked to Allergies, ADHD and Cancer

I can’t even tell you how much food dye I have been serving to children. I have added blue food coloring it to encourage a finicky eater to drink her milk. I mix it into holiday cookies, cakes, and icings. But, now I see there are dozens of articles online of studies showing the link of food dyes to allergies and hyperactivity in children and even cancer. Below is a report from CBS News on the topic.

(CBS) Food dyes may make food look tastier, but a prominent watchdog group says they pose major health risks and is calling for the government to ban them.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the dyes – used in a commercially prepared foods ranging from candy to breakfast cereals and salad dressing – present a “rainbow of risks” and can cause allergic reactions, hyperactivity, and even cancer.

“These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit group, said in a written statement. “The Food and Drug Administration should ban dyes, which would force industry to color foods with real food ingredients, not toxic petrochemicals.”

Jacobson is co-author of a new report entitled, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.”

The group says the three most widely used dyes – Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 – are contaminated with cancer-causing substances. Another dye, Red 3, has been identified as a carcinogen by the FDA but is still in commercial use.

Other dyes have been linked to allergic reactions, the group says, and studies show that dyes can cause hyperactivity in children.

Despite those concerns, manufacturers put about 15 million pounds of eight synthetic dyes into our foods each year, according to the group. Per capita consumption of dyes has risen five-fold since 1955, thanks in part to the proliferation of brightly colored cereals, fruit drinks, and candies pitched to children.

The continued use of food dyes presents “unnecessary risks to humans, especially young children,” James Huff, associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program, said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that the FDA has not addressed the toxic threat posed by food dyes.”

Other governments have already taken action against food dyes, according to the group. The British government asked companies to phase out most dyes by last December 31, and the European Union will require a warning notice on most dyed foods starting on July 20.

The group predicted that the label notice might be the “death knell” for dyes across Europe.

If the CSPI has its way, the dyes will die here too. Click here to read the full report.

Tomorrow: How to Serve Dye-Free Foods

Nannies, will you show the parents you work for this report? Will you try to limit the amount of foods you serve to children with food dyes?


  1. Didn't they say there was a color red that caused cancer and they took it off the market decades ago? If one causes problems clearly others can. The baby I care for must have dye free medicines too. She breaks out in a rash and had an allergist already. We don't use detergents with dyes or foods with dyes. I will show this to the parents they would agree since they have already seen the effects on their child.

  2. Only use food based dyes! S.B.

  3. How to we know if a dye is natural or not in a processed food product? Does anyone know what I should be looking for on labels?

  4. The report seems to recommend whole foods. If you eat an orange, rather than a food product made to taste like an orange, there is no dye added to it. Serve orange juice not orange flavored drinks. NatashaColorado Springs CO

  5. My oldest son began to experience tics at the age of 8. It started with subtle motor tics (like eye blinking) and escalated to vocal tics (in his case, a "honking" noise.) At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome.After extensive testing, we found that he did not have Tourette's after all. His tics were an allergic reaction to food coloring.Now, our whole family tries to avoid artificial colors. My son is 12 and his tics have completely stopped.

  6. To answer Eva's question, specific artificial colors are listed on product labels as Blue #1, Yellow #5, etc.

  7. Great website! Studies do show that artificial coloring can increase hyperactivity in children.

  8. In response to Michelle's comment regarding the red dye that was banned. It was E127 (Red #3) and it was banned in 1990. However, it is still being sold until existing stockpiles have been used up. Scary thought huh… they think it's okay if my kids born in 1989 and 1992 get thyroid cancer just so the food industry doesn't waste any money. Shame on them

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